Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Seal of God

1 Then I (John) saw four angels standing (stationed) at the four corners of the earth, (firmly) holding back the four winds so they did not blow on the earth or the sea, or even on any tree. 2 And I saw another angel coming up from the east (the rising of the sun), carrying the seal of the living God. And he shouted to those four angels, who had been given power to harm land and sea, 3Wait! Do not harm the land or the sea or the trees until we have placed the seal of God on the foreheads of His servants.” 4 And I heard how many were marked with the seal of God—144,000 were sealed from all the tribes of Israel: 5 from Judah — 12,000 from Reuben — 12,000 from Gad — 12,000 6 from Asher — 12,000 from Naphtali — 12,000 from Manasseh — 12,000 7 from Simeon — 12,000 from Levi — 12,000 from Issachar — 12,000 8 from Zebulun — 12,000 from Joseph — 12,000 from Benjamin — 12,000.

9 After this I (John) saw a vast crowd, too great to count, from every nation and tribe and people and language, standing in front of the throne and before the Lamb. They were clothed in white robes and held palm branches in their hands. 10 And they were shouting with a mighty shout, “Salvation comes from our God who sits on the throne and from the Lamb!11 And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living beings. And they fell before the throne with their faces to the ground and worshiped God. 12 They sang, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and strength belong to our God forever and ever! Amen.” 13 Then one of the twenty-four elders asked me (John), “Who are these who are clothed in white? Where did they come from?” 14 And I (John) said to him (one of the twenty-four elders), “Sir, you are the one who knows.” Then he said to me (John), “These are the ones who died in the great tribulation (persecution). They have washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb and made them white. 15 That is why they stand in front of God’s throne and serve Him day and night in His Temple. And He who sits on the throne will give them shelter (with His presence). 16 They will never again be hungry or thirsty; they will never be scorched by the heat of the sun. 17 For the Lamb on the throne will be their Shepherd. He will lead them to springs of life-giving water. And God will wipe every tear from their eyes.” Revelation 7:1-17 (NLT)

Revelation chapter 7 provides an interlude or interruption in the action from the outpouring of God’s wrath (Revelation 6). The book of Revelation has three interludes (Revelation 7:1-17; Revelation 10:1-11:14; Revelation 20:1-6). In the first interlude at Revelation chapter 7, John has two separate visions: the sealing of the 144,000 (Revelation 7:1-8) and the blessedness of the immeasurable multitude of God’s people “from every nation” (Revelation 7:9-17). Much debate has occurred about the identity of the 144,000 and the great multitude from every nation. Many biblical commentators believe John’s two visions are the Church from two different vantage points. 

In the first vision, John sees four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four destructive winds from blowing so that not a leaf rustled in the trees, and the ocean became as smooth as glass (Revelation 7:1). The four corners of the earth represent the whole world – north, south, east, and west.

Then, John saw another angel coming from the east, carrying the great seal of the living God (Revelation 7:2). The angel carrying the seal shouted out to those four angels who had been given power to injure earth and sea, “Do not harm the land or the sea or the trees until we put a seal on the foreheads of the servants of our God” (Revelation 7:3, NIV). This seal is the Name of the Lamb and God (see Revelation 14:1; Revelation 22:4). With the sealing, God wanted to mark or stamp His people to preserve and protect them during the Great Tribulation (also known as the Messianic judgments or birth pains of the Messianic age) (see also Revelation 3:12; Revelation 9:4; Revelation 14:1; Revelation 22:4). God’s sealing is antithetical to the mark of the beast (see Revelation 13:16-18; Revelation 16:2; Revelation 19:20) and symbolizes God’s ownership and protection (2 Timothy 2:19). God’s Holy Spirit also seals God’s servants as His property (see Ephesians 1:13-14; Ephesians 4:30).

To preserve during the time of tribulation does not mean God’s people will not suffer. However, the living God’s mark on the forehead of His servants will protect, preserve, and provide for them during the Messianic judgments. As with the Egyptian plagues from the Old Testament, the Messianic judgments (the seals, trumpets, and bowls judgments) relate ONLY to sinners that refuse to repent and obey the living God.

Then, John heard the number of people given the seal of God: 144,000 from all the tribes of Israel (Revelation 7:4). The tribes of Israel listed in Revelation chapter 7 do not exactly match the literal twelve tribes listed in the Old Testament (see e.g., Genesis 35:22-26; Exodus 1:1-7). In Revelation chapter 7, John omitted the tribe of Dan and John lists Joseph instead of his son Ephraim. Moreover, Judah, the tribe of the Jesus Christ, appears first rather than Reuben, the firstborn of Israel (Revelation 5:5; see also Genesis 49:10; Hebrews 7:14). Instead of listing Dan, John adds Manasseh from the tribe of Joseph (see Genesis 46:20). Many scholars believe John eliminated the tribe of Dan because of Dan’s early connection with idolatry (see Judges 18:30) and condemnation following their compromise and accommodation with Baal worship (see 1 Kings 12:25-33). Even more, the twelve tribes listed in Revelation chapter 7 are not the twelve literal tribes of Israel because the twelve tribes were shattered after the Assyrian invasion in 722 BC and the Babylonian invasions of the Promised Land in 586 BC. Instead, many biblical commentaries believe the twelve tribes symbolically represent the new Israel of God – the Church (Jews and Gentiles) – that are now in a covenant relationship with God that centers on our covenant with Jesus Christ and not the Law of Moses (see e.g., Romans 2:9; Galatians 6:16; 1 Peter 2:9-10).
Out of all twelve tribes of Israel, as listed here:

Judah, 12,000
Naphtali, 12,000
Issachar, 12,000
Reuben, 12,000
Manasseh, 12,000
Zebulun, 12,000
Gad, 12,000
Simeon, 12,000
Joseph, 12,000
Asher, 12,000
Levi, 12,000
Benjamin, 12,000

In the second vision, John once again saw a vast crowd of people that no one could count (Revelation 7:9; see also Revelation 5:9). The vast crowd of people was from every nation, from all tribes and people, and languages, and they were all standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb (Revelation 7:9). These people were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands (Revelation 7:9; see also Revelation 6:11). Many scholars call John’s second vision the Church in triumphant. John’s vision assures God’s people that God will protect and preserve them during the Messianic judgments.

Then, John heard the great crowd of people standing before the throne shouting with a mighty shout in worship and celebration:

“Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.” Revelation 7:10 (NIV)

All the angels were crowding around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and falling face down before the throne and worshiping God saying:

“Amen! Praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honor and power and strength be to our God for ever and ever. Amen!” Revelation 7:12 (NIV)

Then, one of the twenty-four elders asked John, “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?” (Revelation 7:13, ESV). John answered, “Sir, you know” (Revelation 7:14, (NIV). The elder told John, “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (Revelation 7:14, NIV; see also Revelation 12:17). These people stand before God in the righteousness of Jesus the Lamb (see Romans 3:23-25).

Then, the elder informed John, “That is why they are here before the throne of God, serving Him day and night in His temple. The One sitting on the throne will shelter His servants, and they will never be hungry again, nor thirsty, and they will be fully protected from the scorching noontime heat” (Revelation 7:15-16, TLB). Next, the elder informed John, “For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their Shepherd, and He will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes” (Revelation 7:17, NIV). Hopefully, John’s vision gives God’s people hope knowing that they are under the protective covering of God and Jesus the Lamb.

ESV Study Bible, English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2008).
Loyd, Melton, Ph.D., Senior Professor of the New Testament (Due West, SC: Erskine Theological Seminary, 2016).
Mounce, Robert H. The Book of Revelation (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1998).

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